Almirola, Byron, DiBenedetto Take Open Stages, Bowyer Wins Fan Vote

Matt DiBenedetto (No. 21) took the third stage in the Open

Almirola, Byron win first two Open stages, DiBenedetto wins final stage and Clint Bowyer moved into the 2020 NASCAR All-Star by winning the fan vote.
(Bristol, TN - July 15, 2020 - RIS) The largest sports crowd in attendance since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions watchee a rescheduled 2020 NASCAR Open started with a four-wide move on the first lap but soon settled down. Tyler Reddick came close to bringing out a caution but Lap 17. saw Bubba Wallace and Michael McDowell tangle, sending Wallace hard into the outer wall, probably ending Wallace's hopes of moving into the All-Star on the fan vote.

Aric Almirola led the pack to the first "Choose" opportunity in modern Cup Series races, with Ricky Stenhouse, Clint Bowyer and William Byron filling the first two rows and Byron moved into secodn place at the restart as Almirola pulled away with five laps left to the end of the first stage.

Almirola headed the field at the end of the stage by three tenths of a second over Byron, with Ty Dillon, Stenhouse and Chris Buescher the top five. With the 'free pass' into the All-Star, Almirola put his car in the hands of his crew and started the preparations for the feature race.

At the Choose, Byron picked the outside line for the restart, with Tyyron moved into the lead on the green, riding high, with Dillon looking inside but JOhn Hunter Nemechek and Ryan Preece spun after Preece touched McDowell's car and his spinning Chevy clipped Nemechek's for a quick caution.

Byron again picked the outside line with Dillon to his left. Dillon's brother was on the inside second row, with Christopher Bell behind Byron at the green. Christopher Bell got second after Ty Dillon got loose, almost hit Byron and began a fade to the back of the field. Matt DiBenedetto chased after Byron, who moved to a two-second lead over the field to "win" the stage and move into the All-Star. DiBenedetto, Auston Dillon, Clint Bowyer and Christoper Bell finished the top five positions.

"It was good – always good to advance in an All-Star Race and have a shot to go for a million dollars," said Byron after the stage. "The guys did a good job with this car. A little bit different Axalta look for us this week. It needs a little bit of love on the left-rear quarter panel, but hopefully we can get that fixed up and just be ready to go. This is one of my favorite tracks, so it's pretty awesome to see the fans here and everything."

DiBenedetto opted for the outside lane at the choose, with Austin Dillon to his left to start the final fifteen lap stage. Only green flag laps count in the stage. DiBenedetto pulled ahead with Bowyer easily moving around Dillon to take second and chase 'Matt D' but DiBenedetto's No. 21 Wood Brothers' Ford seemed to have the legs on the field as he edged out to a half second lead over Bowyer and went on to take the checkered flag and move into the All-Star. Austin Dillon finished third, Chris Buescher fourth and Ty Dillon fifth. The fan vote winner turned out to be Clint Bowyer, and will start last in the All-Star.

"Oh, man. I was hanging on for dear life," said DiBenedetto. "We were so loose on entry. I was right on the ragged edge, so just thankful to the team for battling back. My gosh, we had big damage there at the start and had to fix it. That's battling back. That's been this team lately. We've been fighting so hard. I'm so proud to be driving this thing and thankful for Menards, FVP, the Wood Brothers team, Motorcraft/Quick Lane, everyone that allows me to have the opportunity to race in my first All-Star Race."

Fan vote winner Clint Bowyer commented that: "you hate to lean on them (the fans), but it damn sure feels good to have the fans back at the track. Thank you, guys! We're gonna go out here and see if we can make some more noise. It's fun to be around this place.

"You want to talk about an All-Star event, this is the right track to do it. It's only gonna get better as we go here. We've already seen sparks flying, tempers flaring. I think you're gonna see more of it. We've got a little bit of work to do on our car, but we're in it. I watched my buddy, Kasey Kahne win it one time off a fan vote -- maybe we can do the same thing."

Race Results, 2020 NASCAR Open: Bristol Motor Speedway

Fin, St, Driver, Car, Tms Led, Laps Led, Laps, Status
1)      10, Matt DiBenedetto, No. 21 Menards/FVP Ford, 1, 15, 85, Running
2)      9, Clint Bowyer(3), No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Ford, , , 85, Running
3)      11, Austin Dillon, No. 3 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Offroad Chevrolet, , , 85, Running
4)      8, Chris Buescher, No. 17 Fastenal Ford, , , 85, Running
5)      20, Ty Dillon, No. 13 GEICO Hump Day Chevrolet, , , 85, Running
6)      4, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 47 Kroger/Cottonelle Chevrolet, , , 85, Running
7)      1, Michael McDowell, No. 34 Love's Travel Stops Ford, 1, 10, 85, Running
8)      19, John Hunter Nemechek #, No. 38 YANMAR Ford, , , 85, Running
9)      21, Corey LaJoie, No. 32 Trump 2020 Ford, , , 85, Running
10)    5, Tyler Reddick #, No. 8 Food City Chevrolet, , , 85, Running
11)    3, Christopher Bell #, No. 95 Procore Toyota, , , 85, Running
12)    18, Daniel Suarez, No. 96 Genuine Parts & Service Toyota, , , 85, Running
13)    12, Ryan Preece, No. 37 Energizer Chevrolet, , , 85, Running
14)    13, JJ Yeley(i), No. 27 Greenlight Debit Card for Kids Ford, , , 85, Running
15)    15, Brennan Poole #, No. 15 Remember Everyone Deployed Today Chevrolet, , , 85, Running
16)    14, Garrett Smithley(i), No. 53 Chantz Scott Auto Group Chevrolet, , , 85, Running
17)    16, Quin Houff #, No. 00 Permatex Chevrolet, , , 83, Running
18)    17, Joey Gase(i), No. 51 Red Rock Secured Ford, , , 76, Handling
19)    7, William Byron(2), No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet, 1, 35, 70, Stage 2 
20)    2, Aric Almirola(1), No. 10 Smithfield Ford, 1, 25, 35, Stage 1 
21)    6, Bubba Wallace, No. 43 World Wide Technology Chevrolet, , , 17, Accident
(i) Ineligible for driver points in this series, (1) Won first stage, (2) Won second stage, (3) Won fan vote

Race Length: 85 Laps: 45.305 miles

0.533 Mile Concrete
Time: 47 min, 22 sec
Average Speed: 57.388 MPH
Margin of Victory: .789 Seconds

Race Comments: Matt DiBenedetto won the NASCAR Open at Bristol Motor Speedway, his first victory in the special non-points paying NASCAR Cup Series event.

Prior to the start, the following vehicle(s) dropped to the rear of the field under penalty for the reasons indicated: No. 32 (two inspection failures). 

Lead Changes: 3 among 4 drivers
M. McDowell 1-10
A. Almirola 11-35
W. Byron 36-70
M. DiBenedetto 71-85.

Caution Flags: 4 for 18 laps
Laps: 19-29 (#24, 34, 43 Incident Backstretch [None])
35-35 (Stage 1 Conclusion [None])
38-42 (#37, 38 Incident Turn 1 [None])
70-70 (Stage 2 Conclusion [53]).

Stage 1 Winner: Aric Almirola, Stage 2 Winner: William Byron, Fan Vote Winner: Clint Bowyer.

John Davison

Long-time RIS staffer, beginning in the mid-80s. Charlotte, NC area local contact.

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Volume 2020, Issue 7, Posted 8:54 PM, 07.15.2020